In's ongoing series, we're chucking our chugging 12-bar progressions and noodly soloing in the trash, and donning the art of a “sonic sculptor”. U2's Edge avoids powerchords and probably can't even recite his basic blues scale, but by technological and almost philosophical means, he's still ended up one of the most lauded guitarists of his generation...

Who is he?

U2's Keith Richards to Bono's Jagger? The Joe Perry of U2's non-toxic “righteous twins”, maybe? Nah, neither really works. U2's Edge is very much his own man. He's a guitar hero to many, a one-trick-pony to others, but what's undeniable is he sounds like no-one else. If “stardom” = walking your own walk and shaping your own style, Edge is very much a star. Without him, U2 just wouldn't sound like they do – in that regard, the Keith Richards comparison has some legs – though he firmly insists if any member of U2 left, that would signal the end of the band. That's quite rare... can you hear us, Axl Rose?

As he hits 55 (he was born Aug 8 1961), Edge has now spent at least 35 years immersed in FX pedals and chiming chords, 30 in hats, and most of his time in beard-stroking experimentation.


Interesting fact #1? One super-fan has devoted a whole website just to his delay settings for various U2 songs.

Interesting fact #2? Edge christened his third daughter “Blue Angel”, in 1989. Take that, Jay Z and Beyonce!

Hats off – or should that be hats on – to the famous Mr Edge.

Signature Sounds

According to U2 producer Daniel Lanois: “Edge is the master of the riff, one of the great musical forces. He's the driving wheel, pretty much in charge of what happens harmonically.”

Edge often plays partial chords, either utilizing arpeggios or small, harmonically ambiguous voicings. In his own words, “I avoid the major third like the plague. I like the ambiguity between the major and minor chords, so I tread a very fine line sometimes between the two... I tend to isolate chords down to two or three notes. Adam [Clayton, bass] is in charge of chord sequences because I haven’t played a proper chord in years.”

To get mileage out of such a minimalist approach he, of course, uses delay as much more vivid tool than just adding “ambience”. From U2's start, on the likes of “I Will Follow”, it was integral to his sound but he soon became much more adventurous as he moved from analog delays to “precise” digital delays. Songs such as “Bad”, “Where The Streets Have No Name” or “Ultra Violet (Light My Way)” are simple to actually fret, but the propulsion comes from the repeated riffs. Playing along to a repeated echo is not so simple, though, and requires a faultlessly on-time strumming hand. As Bono once joked, “Never pick a fight with a man who earns his living through perfect hand-to-eye co-ordination.”

Edge says he never adds delay to a part already written: he writes the song with the delay integral to the initial sound. And that goes to riffs written around fuzz/pitch shifting (“Elevation”) or squelchy filtering (“Mysterious Ways”) too. He says, “I see the effect as part of the guitar.”

Even if you're a huge fan, don't expect him to be impressed by adverts for guitarists who “sound like the Edge.”

“I think they've missed the point, actually,” he says. “If there's anything that's good about my playing, it's because it's me, I'm different. If somebody is trying to sound like me, then they really haven't understood me very well.”

Here's another classic Edge quote that sums up his style. “Notes actually do mean something. They have power. I think of notes as being expensive. You don't just throw them around. I find the ones that do the best job and that's what I use.”

The Edge and Gibson

Edge plays so many different guitars – he sometimes has 18 different guitars onstage for an 18-song set – it's almost impossible to pin him to one particular make or model. But Gibsons have played a big part in his life and his 1976 Gibson Explorer became his visual totem.

“I was in New York with my parents,” he told Guitar. “I went to Manny’s Music store, I think I was looking to buy a Les Paul or a Rickenbacker originally. But then I picked up this Gibson Explorer. It just spoke to me. Now, I knew that using this guitar could get an odd reaction as no-one was playing them back then. It’s an odd-looking thing. But it sounded just right for me, it had 'my sound' in it. And it was only $450. I think it's the most distinctive of my guitars.”

Edge’s Explorer is all over early U2 records. While it was rested for much of the ‘80s and ‘90s, it was back with a vengeance on 2000’s All You Can’t Leave Behind, particularly return-to-form hit “Beautiful Day”.

Edge says, “It just has this unique tone. Adam [Clayton], in particular, was delighted to see it out again. He said, "This thing sounds like nothing else on earth!" It's a pretty special guitar.” The closest Gibson currently makes to Edge's 1976 is the 2016 Explorer T.

Gibson Explorer

For one of U2's strongest albums, the dark-themed and toned Achtung Baby (1991), he relied more heavily on a selection of his Gibson Les Pauls. He bought his cream Les Paul Custom in 1982, again in NYC, and first notably used it to record the U2 classic “New Year's Day” (live, he simultaneously plays a Les Paul and piano). He auctioned his original for Music Rising for $240,000, with Gibson Custom building him a precise replica to continue to use. His 1982 30th Anniversary Goldtop Les Paul is another favorite, associated with Achtung Baby tour-de-force “Until The End of The World.” A Standard Historic 1957 Les Paul Goldtop is close.

Gibson Les Paul

His red SG (the “Elevation” guitar) is a vintage '66, while his acoustics of choice are generally Gibson J-200s (one, a Pete Townshend signature model). Typically, on "Love and Peace or Else" from How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb he pushes a J-200 through distortion and various effects for the solo.

In the aftermath of 2005's Hurricane Katrina, The Edge co-founded Music Rising with producer Bob Ezrin and Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz. 300 limited edition Music Rising Gibson Les Pauls were made in unique Mardi Gras finishes (long sold out, we fear) and total funds raised exceeded $5m, helping replace 2,700 musicians' instruments. Edge also sold his original 1976 Gibson Explorer for Music Rising, again for $240,000.

The work goes on – check out the latest of Music Rising's work at Tulane University.

Essential Listening

In terms of impact, the two biggest-selling studio albums, The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby, are outstanding summations of U2's '80s and '90s peak. The Best Of 1980-1990 and Best Of 1990-2000 compilations concentrate on the stadium favorites. U218 is just singles. If I had to choose any one studio album, it would be Achtung Baby.

U2 The Edge